coffee and IBS

Could Your Daily Coffee Be Causing Your IBS Symptoms?

Grab a Nice Brew

We all like a good brew and coffee shops are so popular – they’re a place to grab a cuppa tea or cappuccino or whatever and a slice of cake, to get out of the rain or have a break … and if you’re like me, you sneak in to use their toilets too!

But is this brew causing you some dramas? Could your daily brew be making your symptoms worse?

Could caffeine be the culprit?

Caffeine and IBS

Let’s check this out…

How Much Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase alertness and cause symptoms of irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbances (Temple et al., 2017). Within the sporting world it is known to help improve performance (Maughan et al., 2018; Pickering & Kiely, 2018).

It’s thought about 4 cups coffee (~400mg caffeine) is safe for healthy (non-pregnant) adults (NHS, 2017), but…

It’s not just coffee that contains caffeine – dark and plain chocolate are on the list too! Have a little look at this:

Average caffeine contents of some drinks and foods

Check your medications for caffeine


(Just as a point, pregnant women should avoid exceeding 200mg caffeine (that’s about 2 mugs of tea or instant coffee), as it can increase risk of low birth weights or miscarriage).


But what about if you suffer with IBS?

Well, we know that caffeine can increase “colonic motor activity” (- a “science-y” way of saying stimulating your bowels) in healthy people (without any gut issues) (Rao et al., 1998).

The most recent British Dietetic Association’s evidence-based guidelines (McKenzie et al., 2016) actually show there is currently (i.e. in 2016 when the report was written), limited scientific evidence to make a strong recommendation for people suffering with IBS.

However, current guidelines recommend a maximum of 3 cups (or 2 mugs) of caffeinated drinks per day (BDA, 2016; NICE, 2017), so that’s about 200mg of caffeine.


Maximum of ~2 mugs coffee per day

You could try limiting your intake to this recommendation to see if it helps. Although, you may find it more conclusive if you totally exclude it (whilst keeping everything else the same – that way it’ll be easier to know if it was the caffeine or not). It’d be useful and makes things easier if you record your dietary intake and symptoms, so you can track progress.

Is It Commonly Caffeine?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but from my own experience of working with people suffering with IBS, I have come across quite a lot of people where caffeine has been contributing to, or seem to be solely causing their symptoms.

For example, I remember working with one particular gentleman, who’s main symptom was diarrhoea. This made him worn out and miserable. Having explored his diet, then trialling my dietary recommendations, his symptoms improved by gradually reducing and then swapping his daily caffeinated coffee (of x 5 cups) to decaf and herbal/fruit teas. Afterwards, he told me how much happier he felt and now in control of his symptoms!

For other people, I have found they can tolerate a couple of cups a day, but no more than that, and for others, it’s caffeine along with other things like garlic and stress levels.


We’re all different, so our diets need to reflect that!

Take-home Messages

  1. Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee, energy drinks, chocolate … and some painkillers
  2. If you think caffeine is a drama for you, you could give caffeine avoidance a bash (- but don’t make any other changes though, so you know if it was the caffeinated drink/food) whilst recording your diet and symptoms – you’ve nothing to lose but potentially much to gain, yayyy!
  3. If you’re used to drinking several brews or other caffeinated drinks/foods, then I’d recommend gradually reducing your intake to avoid potentially getting rotten headaches, but it’s up to you – you may just want to get stuck in!
  4. Avoid caffeine whilst pregnant (or at least below the recommendations (200mg/~2 mugs tea/instant coffee a day))


If you have any comments or questions about caffeine, you can drop me a message. If you sign up to my monthly emails, I can give you some more tips and insights into IBS and diet.


Other Sources of Support

  • IBS Network– Charity that provides information and support
  • Guts UK– Charity to raise awareness about gut conditions and provide information
  • NHS 10 Stress Busters– Some information to help manage stress – have a look around on the website, as they also provide further information on mental health and accessing services
  • Moodjuice– Website full of free self-help resources
  • Headspace– Website (beautiful and cute, by the way!) and App for meditation (- please note you get some free sessions, but then have to pay from £5.99)


References and Further Reading

  • Capili et al. (2016). Addressing the role of food in irritable bowel syndrome symptom management. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 12(5), 324-329.
  • Cozma-Petruţ et al. (2017). Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients! World Journal of Gastroenterology, 23(21), 3771.
  • Maughanet al. (2018). IOC consensus statement: Dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52, 439-455.
  • McKenzie et al. (2016). British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence‐based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults (2016 update).
  • NHS (2017). Four cups of coffee “not bad for health” suggests review.
  • Rao et al. (1998). Is coffee a colonic stimulant?. European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 10(2), 113-118.
  • Singh et al. (2018). The role of diet in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review. Gastroenterology Clinics, 47(1), 107-137.
  • Pickering, C., & Kiely, J. (2018). What should we do about habitual caffeine use in athletes? Sports Medicine, 1-10.
  • The Sleep Council
  • Temple et al. (2017). The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry8, 80. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00080
  • BDA IBS and Diet Factsheet
  • NICE CG 61 Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: Diagnosis and Management



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